Online Gambling in Australia to Come Under the Spotlight

AustraliaThe Australian government has announced a review of online gambling laws which will include measures on how to “protect” gamblers from offshore gambling sites.

Australians are big gamblers. It is estimated that more than 80% of the population have engaged in gambling of some kind, and the revenues generated from gambling exceed $20 billion a year – which puts the country at #1 in the world list of gambling nations per capita.

However, Australia also has a problem with compulsive gambling. Approximately 3% of the adult population (around ½ million people) have gambling or gambling-related problems, and the social cost of compulsive gambling is estimated to be at least $4.7 billion each year.

Although a lot of the problems associated with gambling in Australia are to do with pokies – slot machines in bars and pubs – this type of gambling activity is regulated by State law and not Federal law. Consequently the Federal government has decided to revamp its 2001 “Interactive Gambling Act”, as it is practically the only gambling act of legislation that it has any control over.

What Was in the Old Interactive Gambling Act?

The 2001 Interactive Gambling Act attempted to ban all online gambling activity with the exception of licensed sports betting and state lotteries. However, there was a massive hole in the legislation inasmuch as online operators from outside Australia could continue to accept bets from Australians provided that the operators were reasonably diligent in avoiding offering their services to residents of Australia.

As individuals were not penalised for gambling online, and operators were fairly smart in the wording of their terms and conditions, online gambling expanded into a multi-billion dollar operation which the Federal government has made no attempt to curtail. A couple of Labour politicians – Andrew Wilkie and Nick Xenophon – have attempted to introduce measures to reduce problem gambling, but these have failed to develop into anything of substance.

What has changed now is that politicians have looked at ways to tackle the budget deficit and identified online gambling as an untapped source of revenue. Social Services Minister Scott Morrison said in an interview announcing the review of the Interactive Gambling Act that 60% of the country´s revenues was going to more than 2,000 offshore operators that were out of the government´s reach.

Rhetoric that an American Politician Would be Proud Of

How Scott Morrison knew that 60% of the country´s revenues were going to offshore operators was not revealed. However, it was interesting that he focused the attention of his review on protecting the individuals who were vulnerable to problem gambling by clamping down on online gambling, rather working with State politicians to develop the initiatives of Wilkie and Xenophon – who tried to implement systems which would allow gamblers to preset loss limits on pokie machines. Morrison said:

It is critical that we undertake a serious review of the impact of these illegal offshore operations on Australian consumers as well as our racing & sports industries & identify ways in which we can work to curb these impacts. It is especially important we look at what can be done to protect individuals vulnerable to problem gambling.

The review if the Interactive Gambling Act will be conducted by former New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell. O´Farrell will invite members of the racing industry, the sports industry and wagering groups to present their opinions as well as representatives of state and territory governments. Members of the public are also invited to express their views. O’Farrell has until 18th December to report back to the federal government with his recommendations.